RIP the Bullingdon Club, 1780–2017.
It isn’t quite dead — but it is down to its last two members. That’s barely enough people to trash each other’s bedrooms, let alone a whole restaurant, as the Bullingdon was wont to do, according to legend — not that we ever did that sort of thing in my time in the club, from 1991 to 1993.
The Bullingdon, or Buller, as it is sometimes known, just couldn’t survive 11 years of bad headlines — from 2005 to 2016, when three of its former members, David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson, were the most powerful Conservatives in the country.
Twenty years ago Venezuela was one of the richest countries in the world. Now it is one of the poorest. Venezualans are starving. The farms that President Hugo Chavez expropriated, boasting about the great increase in production that would follow, have failed. Inexperienced management and corruption under both Chavez and the current president, Nicolas Maduro, mean that there is less of each crop each year.
These are the last days of the ‘caliphate’. The place Isis made their capital, Raqqa, in Syria, is encircled and cut off. They have already lost half of Mosul in Iraq, their largest city. Really, what did they expect? This was inevitable from the moment Isis declared war on everyone not in Isis. Defeat was even foreseen by one of the group’s leading thinkers, Abu al-Farouq al-Masri. ‘Announcing enmity to the world will strangle the caliphate in its cradle,’ he said last year.
Arguably the cruellest thing you can do to human beings is to rob them of faith in their own sanity. People can endure physical torment, even torture, so long as their minds are clear. If they feel sane, they can still make sense of what is happening to them and work out how to survive. But if you undermine somebody’s mental stability, they soon unravel. In the words of John Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost, ‘Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell;/And in the lowest deep a lower deep,/Still threatening to devour me, opens wide.
When I was little I owned a set of pencils that had my name engraved on them. I didn’t have anything else with ‘Lara Prendergast’ on it other than my school uniform. The pencils seemed so rare and precious that I tried not to use them. The other day I found one stored away, the lead still sharp.
Personalised pencils aren’t too rare any more. In fact, stationery sits at the most mundane end of the personalisation spectrum.
Why will people simply not believe you when you tell them that you don’t want to dance? Their reactions mimic the classic pattern of grief: first confusion, then denial, then anger. They tug at your arm like they’re trying to pull it from the socket. ‘Come on, you have to dance!’ ‘No I don’t.’ ‘Oh come on! You want to really.’ ‘No I don’t.’ ‘Yes you do! Of course you do! Everybody likes dancing!’
It’s at this stage that I sometimes get all dark on them, losing the smile, injecting a note of firmness or perhaps even menace, and pointing out that if I wanted to dance I would be dancing, but as I’m not dancing they can safely infer that I don’t want to dance.
Ask any publisher of popular non--fiction anywhere in the world which book they would most like to sign, and it is an odds-on bet that they would eventually, mostly, come up with the same title. Obviously the Queen does not plan to reveal all any time soon. Tom Cruise would certainly be interesting if he desired to talk about the crazy, outer-space cult which rules his women and his life. But for sheer history, global presence, intelligence and insight, there really is only one chap — the guy Ben Schott recently described in this magazine as ‘the most seen person on the planet’.
Whatever calamitous infelicities David Beckham did or did not email to his publicist, few will doubt that he has lived to rue the day. Nevertheless, I’ll bet teeth that he is pointing his ruing in the wrong direction: that he is tormented by the moment he pressed ‘send’ — but not similarly kicking himself for hiring a publicist in the first place. It will be left to thee and me to wonder what was the point.
The girl who posed for Auguste Rodin’s figure of Eve on the ‘Gates of Hell’ was, the sculptor said, a ‘panther’. She was a young Italian, pregnant, but barely showing. Not a professional artist’s model. He found the girls who modelled for the Academy painters too affected. He liked stretchers, yawners, fidgeters, jitterbug girls who couldn’t sit still.
His figures in plaster, bronze and marble have a pretzel suppleness.